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Betting Bill Tops Nevada Lawmakers' List

6 January 2003

by Benjamin Grove

WASHINGTON, DC -- Nevada lawmakers could face two old battles in a new session of Congress that gets under way Tuesday.

The lawmakers said they are bracing for the possible re-emergence of a bill that would ban betting on college athletics in Nevada sports books, and they could again take on the plan to create a temporary nuclear waste dump near the proposed permanent storage site at Yucca Mountain.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., vowed that the five-member Nevada delegation would continue to fight the issues "tooth and nail."

Now that Congress has approved Yucca as the nation's nuclear waste dump, the proposal to create a temporary site could have new life. Yucca would not open until 2010 at the earliest, and nuclear power plant operators would like to begin shipping their waste to Nevada sooner.

Congress approved Yucca as a permanent dump site last year, but lawmakers in past years have rejected the interim site plan.

Nuclear industry lobbyists have said they plan to focus this year on Yucca funding, not interim storage. And Nevada lawmakers are not aware of specific plans afoot to reintroduce the measure, but they are wary of the industry's unpredictable allies in Congress, they said.

"I have not heard of any bills on that issue ... but I can always be surprised, I guess," Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said.

Berkley said it's "very" likely that the three-year-old legislation to outlaw wagers on college sports in Nevada will re-emerge this year. Nevada is the only state that offers legal betting on college games.

Proponents of the ban, led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., say betting on student-athletes is unseemly and they argue that the bill could ultimately help curb illegal gambling nationwide, because they say legal betting in Nevada creates a kind of framework for illegal gambling.

Opponents say the bill would do nothing to stop illegal gambling. The bill would "have a major (negative) impact on Southern Nevada," Berkley said.

Nevada lawmakers and the gaming industry have successfully blocked the measure. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said he was confident House Republican leaders would continue to oppose it this year.

More generally, among the first order of business in Congress will be dueling Republican and Democratic economic plans, set for unveiling this today and Tuesday.

Congress this week should extend unemployment benefits and then carefully consider a tax-cutting strategy, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. Reid, who will be Minority Whip in the new GOP-controlled Congress, discussed the upcoming session on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. Democrats support tax cuts aimed at the middle class, he said.

"We should do something to take care of the people who work for corporations, not the corporations, necessarily," Reid said.

Reid also indicated that he would again push for massive new spending for national infrastructure projects, a plan to create jobs supported by the nation's mayors.

When pressed by NBC's Russert on how the nation could avoid deficits amid new spending programs and tax cuts, Reid said Democrats "have a record of performance" in creating budget surpluses.

Reid declined to discuss his plans to run for Democratic Leader if Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., announces a presidential campaign bid, although Reid aides say he has lined up the support of Democratic senators.

Reid told Russert there would be a "smooth transition," should Daschle leave the post. "And you'll be a part of it?" Russert asked. Reid smiled and said, "I think so."

Among Reid's priorities this year is securing more federal money for Nevada transportation projects, including highway projects, a Hoover Dam bypass bridge and the Las Vegas monorail. Reid sits on the subcommittee that is re-examining a highway money funding formula.

Congress this year also will spend much of its time monitoring possible war with Iraq and tensions over North Korea. Berkley, who sits on the International Relations Committee, said North Korea "will be an important focus" in the new session.

Gibbons, as a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, has access to information about developments in the war on terror. Much of the Intelligence panel's time will be spent developing plans to train and dispatch more spies and analysts, Gibbons said.

"We want more spies out on the streets gathering information for us," Gibbons said. "Intelligence is our first line of defense. Without good intelligence, you cannot win a war."

Now that Republicans control the House, Senate and White House, Gibbons expects Congress to pass bills that have long languished, including a prescription drug benefit for seniors covered by Medicare. Gibbons also expects lawmakers to make permanent last year's controversial tax cuts that would expire in 2010.

Gibbons is also hopeful Congress will simplify the nation's tax code to make filing taxes easier, he said.

"It's an exciting time, in general," Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said. "We're going to be supporting the president in his efforts. I'm excited about being in a majority where we can get things done."

For the first time, Nevada will have five lawmakers in the Capitol. Because of its population growth, the state now has three representatives in the House.

The first member to serve in the new third district, Congressman-elect Jon Porter will be sworn in with the rest of his House colleagues Tuesday.

"I've got a lot to learn," Porter said, who is settling into his new office this week.

Fifty-two freshmen House members join Congress as the nation faces an unsteady economy and talk of war.

"It's a very challenging time for the country and the Congress," Porter said.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., was not available for comment on the new session.

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